49ers break ground on new stadium in Santa Clara

Jed York stuck a gold shovel in the ground, planted his right

foot on top and took a ceremonial step to plant the San Francisco

49ers – and the NFL – into Silicon Valley.

So long, San Francisco.

Under clear skies and a setting sun behind the mountains

towering in the distance, the 49ers CEO and Santa Clara leaders

made history at 6:53 p.m. local time, touching off a

confetti-filled and champagne-flowing celebration on the future

50-yard line that took parts of three decades to make happen.

”I see a team building with a shovel in one hand and a sword in

the other,” a loud and proud 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh declared to

a crowd of about 3,000 fans, team executives and past and present

players.

The move some 40 miles south of Candlestick Park sets the stage

for the NFL’s debut in the technology-rich region.

York hopes to open the stadium for the 2014 season – with strong

incentives for builders to meet the deadline – and bid for the

Super Bowl in 2016 and 2017 with hopes of landing one. The $1.2

billion project calls for a 68,500-seat stadium featuring 165

luxury suites, 9,000 club seats and even a green roof-top deck that

includes solar panels and harvested herbs for some on-site food

preparation.

”I want this to be a showcase of technology that enhances the

game experience,” York said. ”And I want it to be something

unique to Northern California.”

The makeshift football field, stage and suit-and-tie ball was

stuck in the middle of what has been a gigantic construction zone

for months.

A sign advertising the franchise’s ”new home” welcomed guests

on a paved path surrounded by dirt, and oversized inflatables of a

49ers helmet and football – with the official signature of NFL

Commissioner Roger Goodell – stacked at least a story high. Cranes

and chain-link fences still surround the team’s adjacent facility,

and a news helicopter hovered overhead.

”This is pretty special,” tight end Vernon Davis said.

”There’s never been a better time to be a 49er.”

A colossal cake of the stadium served as the center of the party

that moved indoors, and renderings of the facility were posted

along the walls. Some of the drawings even included a banner of

current All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis among the 49ers

greats.

”I’m honored,” Willis said ”This day is huge. So many people

have worked on this for so long, and this day is all about them.

It’s finally here.”

The 49ers tried – and failed – several times to keep the team in

the city by the bay.

In 1997, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure to build

a new facility in the city. The deal later crumbled, and when

former owner Eddie DeBartolo – York’s uncle – was forced to cede

control of the franchise in 2000 following a corruption scandal in

Louisiana, momentum for future projects in San Francisco

struggled.

The shovels also signaled the beginning of the end for the

team’s tenure on San Francisco’s shores.

The 49ers have played in San Francisco since their establishment

in 1946, including the last 41 years at historic Candlestick Park,

where the team has won all five of its Super Bowl titles.

The whipping winds and cold air from the city’s famous fog made

conditions constantly change. That’s far from the near year-round

sunshine – and temperatures that can be 20-25 degrees warmer – down

in Santa Clara, where most players and coaches already live.

The aging Candlestick facility is long overdue for a makeover,

has some of the worst sightlines of any major professional sports

venue and is a logistical nightmare for commuters. Two power

outages also delayed a Monday night victory over Pittsburgh last

season.

Candlestick has still never failed to deliver memories, good and

bad, from ”The Catch” by Dwight Clark to win the 1982 NFC

Championship and the first earthquake captured on live television

during pregame warm-ups for Game 3 of the 1989 World Series,

coincidentally between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland

Athletics.

All that has made the transition difficult for some fans.

”I realize this is a bittersweet day for a lot of people,”

York said. ”I want to make this clear: We are the San Francisco

49ers, and we will always be the San Francisco 49ers.”

The cost of the Santa Clara stadium will be covered by three

primary sources.

The team and the city received an $850 million bank loan. Santa

Clara voters passed a plan two years ago for the city and area

hotels to contribute $114 million, and NFL owners in February

approved a $200 million loan – the first under the league’s new G-4

loan policy initiated after the new collective bargaining

agreement.

The G-4 policy replaces a plan that allowed a maximum of

$150,000 per team in loans.

”It’s a far cry from where I started at Kezar (Stadium),”

former 49ers coach George Seifert said. ”It’s pretty

awesome.”

Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP